Today's the birthday of somebody who changed my life: Matthew. Remembering the road to his arrival can stir the same feelings, the joy, awe and, yes, fear. But along the journey, I saw that while the road isn't always just the way we mapped, God writes straight with crooked lines.
In tough times, I tried to at least live by the credo: Fake it until you make it. I spoke about trust, but on the inside, i was terrified, not of childbirth, but of the journey to it. We'd experienced painful loss in the past, but that's when we met a priest named Fr. Dennis Kelleher. He prayed for Gods will over my husband and I before I conceived our then four year-old son, Greg, whose due- and arrival date was August 15th, the day Fr. Kelleher held masses for couples who wanted to conceive.
Here I was again on that road after Fr. Kelleher prayed for us. Throughout this pregnancy, though, I experienced Braxton Hicks, the contractions that felt like my baby was prepping for an early arrival. So the doctor scheduled weekly appointments during which time a monitor was wrapped around my stomach to evaluate their intensity. I lie week after week and watched the rise and fall of crooked lines across an LCD screen, unsure of what they meant. I just knew that their movement matched the tightening and loosening of muscles in my abdomen.
While I sat in the waiting room one day, I spoke with a woman who'd experienced similar concerns and prior loss.
"In India, we don't have miscarriage rates like America," she said. "The moment a woman conceives, she is cared for. She doesn't do anything." I thought about the American way, and that, man or woman, and whatever their physical goings-on, there's always something macho to prove, like, "Hey, I can do this, it's easy!"
But when a culture makes a rule for treatment based on a person's appearance or condition, it can go to incredibly ugly places. Extremes-r-us. We're each wired unique, and maybe somebody's body really does suit skiing in the Swiss Alps right up to delivery. I read a piece in the New York Daily News online on July 4, 2014, about a woman who gave birth while driving her car, while in communication with her husband over a cell phone. This is rare in any country and should be featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for calmness during childbirth and multitasking while driving a motor vehicle.
Even if she can do a lot of things, a woman's body is in a state of transformation. She's not weak, but anybody whose experienced "morning sickness" knows it can last all day, and not just for three months. Her body's resources are refocused, like when a plant produces flowers, readjusting, shifting nutrients, accommodating its precious cargo. That's why, morning sickness or not, a woman has to take vitamins the size of her fist.
But as my new friend spoke about India, I loved the concept of women, moving on in and rallying around each other, supporting a woman during her pregnancy and afterwards. That sounded more like love than control. (Though I'm sure there are plenty of horror stories.)
I wanted it to be a safe nine months.
Dad drove me to the doctor's office on July 12th, Matthew's due date. The doctor said it was a no go, zero indicators on the proverbial radar screen. Disappointed, I chose to pig out for lunch. I'd had enough of the celery sticks. So Dad and I went to McDonalds, and I chomped on the biggest burger, fries and shake I could get my grubby little hands on. Then we went home, where Aunt Lottie, whose apartment we rented, eyed my stomach-rubbing, while she talked about other things. It was all good.
With all the Braxton Hicks I'd experienced, the cramps didn't cause alarm. But over the next couple of hours, they intensified until I phoned my husband. Dad timed the contractions and I knew when I saw the heavy wrinkles pile up on his forehead, like a Shar-Pei's, he was worried. He delivered the verdict subtly.
"Hey-ey, you know, right about now, your mother would have been in the hospital and I'd be home, eating apple pie." I rolled my eyes, massaging my stomach. It was time to leave.
Lottie leaned against the wall with her hands behind her back, trying to act casual. "Oh, yeah. She's ready."
We'd gone to Lamaze, the class that teaches the husband to remind his wife to breath during childbirth, but my coach wasn't there as Dad and I got into his car. "Dad, will you come in with me if Greg doesn't make it?" I asked.
"You've had nine kids. Wouldn't you like to actually be there when a baby's born?"
He drove to the end of the block, where my husband arrived, jumped in, and we were on our way. One hour later, our son was born. And through all these years, I've learned more from Matthew, a name meaning "Gift of God," than I ever imagined a mother could learn from her son about being joyful and fun and telling it like it is in the moment, even when you're struggling or afraid. I thank God for him, for our journey together and the lesson that I continue to learn: that the road to where we're going isn't always clear, straight, or the way we mapped, but God writes straight with crooked lines.